Our first titbit comes from the possibility broached recently that the Yuletide holidays and their aftermath may not be as merry as was once thought. Reason? Many workers at both the federal and state levels went home without receiving their salaries which would have powered the season’s festivities. The recession occasioned by the sharp drop in our oil export volume and in the price of crude oil appears to be taking its toll in spite of attempts to downplay the impact. As of the time of turning in this write-up, there was little hope that the salaries for November and December would be paid across the broad spectrum of organisations in the private and public sectors. In the best human resources tradition, the end of the year should attract not just the customary salary but the payment of the 13th month wage to make the season truly merry. But hard times are here and it is perhaps a little while before the dangling axe of retrenchment begins its frightening dance. One can only hope and pray that the austerity will not be for long or become a way of life.
Cheery news from the city of Enugu constitutes the subject of our second titbit. The city was named recently as one of 35 across the globe admitted into the Resilient City Network founded by the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation. On the African continent, Enugu rubs shoulders with Kigali in Rwanda, Accra in Ghana, and Arusha in Tanzania. Enugu was chosen from 331 applicants for “demonstrating a unique vision for resilience and the long term commitment to cutting across silos of government and sectors of society”. This is an engaging tribute to the transformative genius hitherto little noticed, much less commented upon of Governor Sullivan Chime. The degradation of that city from the sub-urban idyll which it was in the 70s and 80s was much lamented. In recent times, however, Chime embarked upon an imaginative programme of renewal bringing back much of the tarnished glory of that lovely city. Why is this important? Precisely because we have failed as a nation to hook adequately with the new governance paradigm in which cities and sub-national governments become the foci of riveting development thereby remedying the deficiencies of central governments. Lagos and now Enugu have blazed the trail in opening new windows of fast-paced growth in a country challenged by enormous odds.
Now to the main comment. Last week’s publication of the November/December 2014West African Senior School Certificate Examination result was a dampener to the extent that 70 per cent of the candidates failed to obtain credits in five subjects including Mathematics and English Language. WAEC offers cold comfort by informing that the result, marginally improved upon last year’s equally woeful performance by four per cent. To be sure, dismal performance in WASSCE, as well as in exams conducted by the National Examination Council and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has become an annual ritual. The wearisomely familiar pattern goes like this: The results featuring high casualty rates are published followed by lamentations from newspaper editorials and columnists attended by a few policy suggestions. After one or two months, the mourning period is over, the suggestions made are not implemented, sometimes not even noticed, and life goes on normally until the next round of devastating results are published.
Part of the problem is that, with a few honourable exceptions, very little sustained attention has been paid to reviving the quality of primary and secondary education. Muhammed Haruna, a former Managing Director of New Nigerian, it was who suggested recently that the state governors and the Federal Government appear to be fixated on building an ever increasing number of universities leaving the fundamental ladder of secondary education in the lurch in which it has remained for decades. Obviously, once the youths are malformed at the basic tiers of the system, they remain so for life. Indeed, we get a different side of the same rot if we inquire about the quality of those who scale through the exam and come up to the university. And so, the problem goes beyond mass failure in SSCE to connect the worth of learning that Nigerian youths are getting in secondary schools and beyond.
Some interventions such as the building of mega schools in Osun and Ondo states are commendably directed at the upgrade of the learning environment. But even these do not exhaust the lengthening list of setbacks. An anecdote will put this in perspective. A university lecturer was visiting one of the states which had expensively built new attractive classrooms replete with well-stocked libraries in some of the secondary schools. Upon entering one of the libraries and considering that the students had a little break after lunch before they resumed classes for the day, the academic commended the state of the art library. He went on to ask however: “Where are the students?” That question touched a raw nerve underlining the point that there is a lot more to upgrading the quality of education than elevating the learning environment important as that is.
There is the issue of how to motivate the students to settle down to learn by taking time off addiction to several tech toys with which they engage one another in multiplying social media outlets. This is a challenge that connects the wider society value warp in which hard work in particular academic learning attracts low esteem. Once the students have failed to acquire a reading culture either through books or through digital tablets, they tend to switch off and find other amusements to occupy their time.
The teachers are also a special area of concern. As I related recently, a senior colleague found to his chagrin that many English literature teachers in a secondary school he visited had not even read the prescribed texts like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which they were supposed to be teaching. Researching the quality of teachers, many of them half-baked and some with fake qualifications, is sure to open a Pandora’s Box. The resistance of the teachers in Edo and Ekiti states to recent attempts to introduce promotion exams speaks volumes about the density of the problem. That notwithstanding, a holistic attempt to redraw the architecture of secondary school education must necessarily take on board the quality of teachers as well as prescribe continuous professional development through in-service training.
In some extreme instances, taking into account that the bleakest performance in November/December 2014 are in some northern states, the issue is not the quality of teachers but their virtual absence. In such cases, the prescription of Prof. Margee Ensign, President of the American University of Nigeria, Yola, that the country needed to train 1, 000 teachers a day in order to save the nation’s education, comes to mind. In other words, well-motivated and disciplined teachers who know their onions are central to the revival of secondary school education.
Several seminars and workshops have been held on how to save the nation’s education sector; what is required, therefore, is not more talk but the implementation of the several suggestions that have come out of them.